Amidst the introduction of the all-new 2017 Mercedes-Benz E-Class, we were sent a jewel that’s almost hidden within the German brand’s comprehensive lineup.
Tucked neatly into the swarms of CLAs, GLE Coupés and S-Class‘ is this V8-powered personal luxury coupé; a car that may be getting a bit dated, but still has enough charm to keep buyers satisfied and comfortable. We’ve previously driven the two-door E-Class (see review) with the V6 powertrain, both in convertible and coupé form, but never before with this motor. The 2016 Mercedes-Benz E550 Coupe is a force not to be messed with, and a grossly underestimated car.
Most important here is the powertrain, which was updated during the mid-cycle refresh that debuted for the 2014 model year. At this time, the E550 ditched its naturally aspirated V8 in favour of a new 4.7L twin-turbo V8, codenamed M278. The roaring beast produces 402 horsepower at 5,000RPM, and a blistering 443 lb-ft of torque at just 1,600RPM. This power is almost reminiscent of Audi’s RS5 (review here), but with 100+ more foot-pounds of torque. This car is seriously quick, and response is excellent. There is no noticeable turbo spool or turbo lag, and the E550’s engine always seems to be in the powerband.
The only available transmission on the non-AMG E-Class is the seven-speed automatic, an in-house unit from Mercedes-Benz. It’s a buttery smooth transmission with paddle shifters and a proper manumatic mode. When cruising along at highway speeds, the engine spins at very low RPMs in seventh gear and makes for an exceptionally comfortable ride. When driving spiritedly though, the gearbox begins to show its weakness – the paddles aren’t that responsive and the ZF 8-speed automatic in BMW and Audi applications does a far superior job when sportiness is required.
It’s not all bad though; Mercedes-Benz has ensured that the E550 has stellar driving dynamics. When pushed hard, the V8 effortlessly responds to the driver’s command, making every single maneuver both easy and fun. The exhaust sounds spectacular too – it’s almost reminiscent of the BMW 650i Gran Coupe (see review here) we had in our garage a few weeks prior, but with more confidence and a bit more character. Where the BMW and Audi are a bit more technical, the Mercedes is more passionate. Throttle response is immediate and the brakes do a great job bringing the big coupé to a stop.
Not exactly meant to be sporty, the E550 is an exquisite Autobahn cruiser. The ride quality from the comfort-oriented suspension is excellent, and firms up nicely when put in the “Sport” setting without thrashing too much. The steering lacks analog feel, but again; this isn’t the goal of this luxury coupé. It handles competently and is responsive enough. Turning ESP off and being liberal with the throttle will cause the rear end to eagerly step out and ready to tango. If just cruising along though, features such as lane assist and pre-collision braking help ease the process of actually driving.
Whereas the V6-powered E400 Coupé (our review of the Cabriolet here) can only be had with 4MATIC all-wheel-drive, there’s no way to get 4MATIC with the V8 engine. Though the majority of Mercedes-Benz’s Canadian buyers opt for the all-wheel-drive, the E550’s rear-wheel-drive setup makes it a joy to drive year round – yes, even in the winter. Our test took place at the end of January, which meant there was a decent amount of ice on the ground. Thanks to all of Mercedes-Benz’s safety systems on board, the coupé didn’t bat an eye. Granted, the winter tires certainly contributed to this, and I recommend all E550 buyers to opt for a solid set of dedicated rubber for the cold season.
Considering it’s a powerful V8 with over 400 horses under the hood, I was particularly surprised with the E550’s fuel economy. After about 400km of driving that included a good chunk of rush hour commuting, I still managed to get 12.5L/100km. Mercedes-Benz suggests a combined 11.4L/100km, but I was getting a serious amount of enjoyment out of hearing that intoxicating exhaust note. The 75L fuel tank means the E550 can go for longer hauls without having to stop and refuel with 91-octane premium fuel.
Much like most other entries from Mercedes-Benz, the interior of the E-Class is built with meticulous attention to detail and offers flawless fit and finish. Now that we have seen what the interior of the upcoming 2017 model will look like though, the outgoing car has instantly become obsolete. It’s not that it’s bad – quite the contrary actually; the dashboard is designed with timeless elegance. There’s still a signature Mercedes-Benz analog clock in the middle, surrounded with nice metallic finishes, tasteful wood trim and stitched leatherette upholstering the dash.
I personally like Mercedes-Benz’s unique touches, such as the seat adjustments located on the interior door panels, bearing the physical shape of the seat itself. There’s also memory seating, which, unlike other manufacturers, you can adjust on the fly as opposed to having to be stopped. The seats themselves are multi-contoured and have adjustable bolsters. My particular test car had heated and ventilated seats, but no massage function. Also worth mentioning are the stylish frameless windows and the surprisingly easy access to the rear seats.
Just like the CLS400 we sampled last summer, the E550 gets the refreshed COMAND infotainment system. The new C-Class, GLE, and other newer models within the Mercedes-Benz lineup get an even fresher version of the system, which includes a touchpad stacked on top of the standard controller. Thankfully, at least until the new model goes into production, this feature has not made its way into the E-Class. The system itself is excellent to use, and much like BMW with their iDrive system, Mercedes has had many years to perfect the application. The Harman-Kardon sound system also demonstrates quality and clarity, but lacks the orchestral nature of the Burmester setup in the current C-Class.
Canadian pricing for the 2016 E-Class Coupé starts at $64,500 for the E400. The much more substantial E550 tested here starts at $74,500 and comes with the V8 engine and rear-wheel-drive. Our car was also equipped with the $3,500 Premium Package, which provides a power rear window sunshade, Climate Comfort front seats (heated and ventilated), active park assist, a 360-degree camera, and keyless go. An extra $2,700 adds the Intelligent Drive Package, which adds a series of safety features including blind spot monitoring, Active Lane Keeping Assist, Distronic Plus radar cruise control with steering assist, autonomous pre-collision braking, and a few other gizmos. The as-tested sticker on our car came to $80,500.
There are a few things I wasn’t the biggest fan of with the two-door E, and luckily for the car, they all revolve around the car being a bit dated at this point. For instance, the COMAND screen is a bit on the small side, especially when compared to the one on the new C-Class. The frameless windows, while excellent in appearance, aren’t really ideal for insulation, especially in winter. Lastly, even at $80,000, our test car was not equipped with a heated steering wheel. This option cannot be had with the beautiful, ergonomic wheel equipped on this model.
Even though the redesigned E-Class sedan is just around the corner, the outgoing model represents an impeccable choice in the Canadian luxury car market. The 2016 Mercedes-Benz E550 Coupe is a comfortable, smooth, powerful, and addictive entry in a segment populated with great-performing but otherwise dull vehicles. The Audi RS5 is no longer in production, and the BMW 650i feels noticeably heavier to drive. The E550 is a gentleman’s two-door, with a personality full of charm, backed by a manufacturer with a reputation for luxury dating back over a century. How much better can it really get?